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The Nominees to the National Labor Relations Board Deserve Confirmation: As I See It

It is almost impossible to understand why a small agency like the National Labor Relations Board would be the object of attacks.

When we’re in elementary, junior high, and high school, we are taught about democracy, but once we are at recess or going to and from school, democracy is out the window, and the bullies can rule.

These days, it seems that the Republican Senate and House caucuses are filled with people who paid no attention to learning how democracies work.

Instead, they use the bully lessons they learned in the schoolyard. Their motto seems to be taken from wrestlerGorgeous George (nee George Wagner), who said, “Win if you can. Lose if you must. But always cheat.”

Perhaps that is the strategy. It is too late to make President Obama a one-term president, so the goal now is to shut down a democratically elected government with the hope that years of intransigence will get them victory in 2014 and 2016.

But bullying as a political strategy has serious consequences for the people they are supposed to represent. Senate Republicans have blocked President Barack Obama’s nominees to the National Labor Relations Board for years now – functionally shutting it down.

It is almost impossible to understand why a small agency like the National Labor Relations Board would be the object of attacks.

There is no valid reason to block President Obama’s nominees, all of whom would bring deep and varied backgrounds to the job.

Most people have never heard of it, but the board plays a vital role in protecting employees’ rights in the workplace. For example, many employers have rules that forbid their employees from discussing their pay with one another. However, an employer that forbids employees from talking about their pay or fires them if they discuss their pay has committed violations of the National Labor Relations Act.

This may seem to be a trivial issue, but if employees cannot discuss their pay and other workplace conditions, they are at a bargaining disadvantage compared to their employer who has that information.

Some people claim that the NLRB is a shill for unions, but this is simply untrue. Before taking any action, the NLRB investigates alleged violations, and, if a violation is found, prosecutes the case, at no cost to the employee.

The National Labor Relations Act includes union violations. Again, if an NLRB investigation shows that a union has violated the National Labor Relations Act, the NLRB will prosecute the union.

And when appointments are made to the NLRB, the long standing tradition is to balance the NLRB members with 3 of the 5 members being from the President’s party and 2 from the minority.

In fact, President Obama has followed that tradition. The President nominated five well-qualified Board members: three Democrats and two Republicans. Senate Republicans responded by blocking a vote on them.

There is no valid reason to block President Obama’s nominees, all of whom would bring deep and varied backgrounds to the job – if only the Republicans stopped being bullies and played by the Senate’s longstanding rules.

Mark Gaston Pearce, nominated to be the board’s chairman, has years of experience in industrial relations. After law school, he was a trial specialist with the NLRB for 15 years. In addition, he was a member of the New York Industrial Board of Appeals (IBA), practiced as a union-side attorney, and taught labor law at Cornell University. Most recently, he served the NLRB as Board Chairman since 2011.

The other two nominees, Harry I. Johnson, III and Philip A. Miscimarra are both Republicans who represented corporations.

The two board members – Sharon Block and Richard Griffin – are serving recess appointments. Most of member Block’s career has been in government, ten years of which were working for the NLRB, including working for former Republican board chairman Battista. Griffin worked for the International Union of Operating Engineers and for the Board.

However, it is a mistake to treat NLRB decision-making as a team sport in which everyone chooses sides or to assume that a Board member’s practice experience predicts how that member will vote in every case.

When the board functions properly, it is a slice of democracy, in which people discuss their understandings and conclusions with one another and try to live up to their oath to faithfully discharge the duties of their office.

These nominees all deserve to be confirmed, and the American people deserve a functioning National Labor Relations Board. It’s time for the Republicans to stop the bullying and give us back a functioning democracy.

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